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Crumbling reefs: Simulation based monitoring of coral reefs (EPS2022/42)


   School of Engineering & Physical Sciences

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  Dr Uwe Wolfram, Dr M Vallejo, Dr S Hennige  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Cold-water corals (CWCs) are some of the most abundant corals in the world, creating massive habitats from their skeletons and supporting huge amounts of biodiversity. However, the reefs they form are under direct threat from ocean acidification. Ocean acidification affects critical parts of the coral reef framework, leading to physical habitat collapse on an ecosystem scale and reducing the potential for biodiversity support. Despite this daunting outlook, CWCs are remarkable creatures that combat this climate change threat in unprecedent ways. The mechanism underpinning crumbling and collapse of corals can be described via a combination of laboratory-scale experiments and mathematical and computational models.

Suitable computational models may help support future conservation and management efforts of these vulnerable marine ecosystems by identifying which ecosystems are at risk, when they will be at risk, and how much of an impact this will have upon associated biodiversity. However, the complexity of the tissue generates demanding and long simulations due to huge computational power and time requirements. Together with the sheer size of reef structures explicit computational methods such as the finite element method are not viable. However, biophysics informed neural network-based modelling approaches offer fast and cost-effective pathways to realise this. Therefore, this project aims at developing a modelling framework for specific CWC-reefs and our objectives are

  • (i) define features to that determine reef health through a meta-analysis of existing data
  • (ii) develop an appropriate data structure for reef specific models
  • (iii) model climate change driven changes in reef composition
  • (iv) apply the model to example reef systems

Impact: Given the importance of cold-water habitats the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity has recently stated that there is “a need to develop predictive model research to determine how projected climate change will impact cold-water biodiversity over different timescales”. If successful, this project will help to close this important gap.

How to Apply

1. Important Information before you Apply

When applying through the Heriot-Watt on-line system please ensure you provide the following information:

(a) in ‘Study Option’

You will need to select ‘Edinburgh’ and ‘Postgraduate Research’. ‘Programme’ presents you with a drop-down menu. Choose Chemistry PhD, Physics PhD, Chemical Engineering PhD, Mechanical Engineering PhD, Bio-science & Bio-Engineering PhD or Electrical PhD as appropriate and select September 2022 for study option (this can be updated at a later date if required)

(b) in ‘Research Project Information’

You will be provided with a free text box for details of your research project. Enter Title and Reference number of the project for which you are applying and also enter the potential supervisor’s name.

This information will greatly assist us in tracking your application.

Please note that once you have submitted your application, it will not be considered until you have uploaded your CV and transcripts.


Funding Notes

There are a number of scholarships available which offer funding from between 3 and 3.5 years at an average stipend rate of £15,000 per year.
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